IA-Gov: Closing arguments for Branstad and Culver

For most of this year, Governor Chet Culver wasn't campaigning as actively as Republican Terry Branstad, but the governor has been making up for lost time. Since his third debate with Branstad on October 21, Culver has headlined dozens of campaign events around the state. The governor performed well in that debate and has sharpened his stump speech. Everywhere he goes, he says he feels the momentum that will win him another term.

While Iowa Democrats insist the polling trendlines favor Culver, Branstad has led in every poll released since he entered the Iowa governor's race. His campaign has played it safe the last few weeks and appears to have avoided any "game-changing" mistakes.

A review of recent Branstad and Culver campaign messages is after the jump.

Branstad continues to saturate the airwaves and is sticking with the themes he's used all year. Two positive commercials are in rotation now. Branstad reads the script for the first one, and the second features endorsements from unidentified ordinary Iowans:

My transcript of the first ad:

Branstad: There's no doubt Iowa families are hurting. And yet wherever Kim and I go, the spirit of Iowa is strong. No matter how hard it's gotten, you've kept the faith, and you're ready to get our state back.

I know we can do it. We will create the jobs we need, we'll get state spending under control, and we'll give our children the world-class education they deserve.

I know Iowans. Iowans know me. I have no doubt our best days are ahead. I'd appreciate your vote on Tuesday.

Here's the other one. Several of the speakers are off-camera, as viewer sees footage of Branstad meeting with different people on the campaign trail:

Unidentified man speaking off-camera: Terry Branstad's bringing hope back to the community, he's bringing hope back to main street.

Unidentified woman: I think people are excited about the future.

Second woman: I think Terry Branstad has done this before, and he can do it again.

Second man: I believe he's coming to the rescue.

Third man: I thought he did a great job before.

Fourth man: He is tested, and he's been true to the people of Iowa since I can remember.

Fifth man: I think Terry Branstad's the man to get our jobs back.

Third woman: Governor Branstad has a detailed plan to create jobs, to fix our educational system.

Sixth man: I don't know anybody that cares more about the future of Iowa and its citizens than Terry Branstad.

These strike me as more effective than the cutesy "There's an app for that" spots Bleeding Heartland discussed here. Culver has been contrasting his vision for the future with a return to the Branstad past. Now Branstad offers a forward-looking plan, while drawing on his past experience.

In the closing days of the campaign, Branstad has also had two negative ads in heavy rotation. One of those is called "Iowa Can't Afford Chet Culver":

This ad has no voice-over, just a suspenseful soundtrack and a series of words on screen. My transcript:

HIGHEST UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN 24 YEARS -IOWA WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

113,000 IOWANS OUT OF WORK  -IOWA WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

$500 MILLION INCREASE IN PROPERTY TAXES  -DES MOINES REGISTER

$1.7 BILLION IN NEW STATE DEBT  -LEGISLATIVE SERVICES AGENCY   AND NO NEW JOBS

CULVER BUDGET CUTS FORCE TEACHER LAYOFFS  -IowaIndependent.com, KCCI TV

$10 MILLION IN FLOOD AID MISSPENT  -Cedar Rapids Gazette

CRIMINAL CHARGES IN CULVER'S FILM OFFICE SCANDAL  -Quad City Times

SPECIAL PROSECUTOR INDICTS CULVER CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTORS  -Des Moines Register

SCANDALS    RECKLESS SPENDING    PROPERTY TAX HIKES   NO JOBS  

IOWA CAN'T AFFORD CHET CULVER  [using the green and yellow colors from the Culver campaign logo]

A radio version of this ad uses the same music and has a male announcer read most of the words that appear on screen in the tv version.

Yet again, the Branstad campaign claims I-JOBS will cost $1.7 billion to repay, citing Legislative Services Agency estimates from when the Iowa legislature was considering the program. More than a year ago, most of the bonds were sold at lower than expected interest rates, reducing the repayment cost to about $1.2 billion. Those facts are not in dispute. Branstad and other Republicans simply like using the false higher number. Why Iowa journalists keep letting them get away with these lies is beyond me.

Teacher layoffs would have been much worse without the stimulus funding and federal fiscal aid Branstad opposed. As for the $10 million in flood aid supposedly misspent, the picture is more complicated (see the original story cited as a source for Branstad's ad).

Finally, state government can't "force" local governments to raise property taxes. A Culver campaign response to this commercial pointed out that "31 counties and 90 school districts [in Iowa] cut property taxes this year."

The other Branstad negative ad is called "Let's See":

My transcript:

Female voice-over: Are we better off under Chet Culver than Governor Branstad? Let's see.

With Governor Branstad, we had a $900 million surplus, and good teachers were paid more without raising property taxes.

Chet Culver's huge budget gap has forced teacher layoffs and sky-high property tax hikes.

Governor Branstad created nearly 300,000 jobs. Today 113,000 Iowans are out of work.

This answer is easy. Iowa is clearly better when Terry Branstad's our governor.

More debunked numbers. Branstad didn't create 300,000 jobs or anything close to that number. He ran deficits for most of his 16 years as governor; the $900 million surplus happened near the peak of the 1990s economic boom. Property taxes did go up during Branstad's time as governor, and teacher pay as a whole slipped from 26th in the nation in 1982 to 35th in 1999. Culver hasn't run up a "huge" budget gap.

Branstad has moderated some of the stands he took earlier this year. For instance, he now says he's for giving all children access to preschool and merely wants to save money by means-testing the program. He also said last month that his administration would not try to block public school access for undocumented immigrant children.

One of Branstad's greatest achievements since Labor Day has been keeping the media away from his inexperienced running mate Kim Reynolds. She rarely talks to the press, and her background has received almost no scrutiny. In August, the Branstad campaign agreed to three gubernatorial debates and one debate between Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge and Reynolds. However, the Republicans never agreed to a date and time. In early October, Reynolds said her schedule was too busy for a debate, because she was trying to visit all 99 counties before the election. Reynolds met that goal on Tuesday, October 26, but still didn't offer to discuss the issues with Judge. Branstad didn't get much negative press from keeping Reynolds away from journalists, so it was smart for him not to risk letting her answer unscripted questions.

Late last week, the Culver campaign publicized concerns about Reynolds' role in selecting a company that handles online payments for 88 Iowa counties. Reynolds recommended the West Des Moines firm ABC Virtual Communications for the contract in 2007, when she was Clarke County treasurer. She allowed that company "to access a password-protected portion of a rival's website." She started working as ABC Virtual Communications' business development manager in January 2009, shortly after being elected to the Iowa Senate. The Newton Independent raised questions about that sequence of events on September 27:

   * Just how instrumental was Ms. Reynolds in helping ABC secure the contract and who else was a member of that "three-person Senior Policy Team?"

   * Any perception problems for Ms. Reynolds in taking a job with the company she (apparently) helped land an account? And just how is ABC paid, and how much?

   * Why would a county association select a firm that was under receivership when it was reviewing RFPs? Were association members aware of this fact at the time the decision was made? Are they aware Ms. Reynolds now works for ABC?

Fortunately for Branstad and Reynolds, this story never got legs with the mainstream media before election day.

Just before the third gubernatorial debate, Culver proposed a middle-class tax cut that would give a lot of Iowans a little money. Immediately following that debate, the Culver campaign started running a spot called "Different Plans":

Script provided by the Culver campaign:

Male Announcer: Two Governors, two different plans.

Female Announcer: Chet Culver would cut income taxes for nine hundred and eighty thousand middle class Iowans.

Male Announcer: Terry Branstad would cut corporate taxes in half, with millions going to out-of-state corporations.

Female Announcer: Culver balanced the budget, created a surplus and didn't raise taxes.

Male Announcer: Branstad borrowed for deficit spending, cut corporate taxes but raised our gas and sales taxes.

Female Announcer: Tax cuts for us,

Male Announcer: Or tax cuts for BP.

Female Announcer: You decide.

In terms of production values, it's a good ad with a simple message. They even threw in BP, corporate public enemy number one of 2010. I like the use of quotations from newspaper reports to support the points about Iowa's balanced budget and Branstad's plan to cut corporate taxes. However, proposing a last-minute tax cut during a re-election campaign comes across as a bit desperate.

The Culver campaign has appealed particularly to women voters, since he can't beat Branstad without a big gender gap. This ad called "Clocks" started running in mid-October:

My transcript:

Female voice-over as viewer sees and hears clock ticking in the background: Terry Branstad would turn back the clock. He'd close preschools across the state. End health care for thousands of Iowa children. Ban embryonic stem cell research and slow the discovery of life-saving cures.

And take away a woman's right to make her own health care decisions. Terry Branstad would force his own narrow political views on our personal lives and reverse decades of progress.

Terry Branstad is a risk not worth taking.

During the Republican primary campaign, Branstad endorsed more restrictive abortion laws and promised to end state funding for Planned Parenthood. Cutting that funding wouldn't affect abortion services but would restrict contraception services and well-woman care. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland's PAC has been getting that message to women voters since the PAC endorsed Culver this summer.

When Branstad criticized Planned Parenthood's telemedicine program last month, Culver spoke out:

"What Terry Branstad is proposing is to shut down all telemedicine. You can't just very narrowly pick and choose who is allowed to use telemedicine. This shouldn't be about ideology. This should be about health care and providing services, including family-planning services," Culver said "He's over-simplifying a very complex issue."

After highlighting the universal preschool program in a campaign ad that ran in early October, the Culver campaign tried to keep preschool in the news through a series of "milk party" events at preschools around the state. The milk parties were a bit gimmicky, but I suspect this line of argument was helping Culver, because Branstad highlighted his support for preschool in one of his commercials last month. That was a big shift from his stance during the Republican primary.

Culver's closing argument, "Another Term," started running on October 28:

Transcript provided by the Culver campaign:

"Another Term"

Announcer: When a national publication ranks Iowa the third best-run state in the entire nation, Chet Culver is doing a lot right.

Iowa has a budget surplus, low debt, low unemployment, and leads in children's healthcare and renewable energy.

On screen:

Iowa: $754 million budget surplus [Iowa Department of Management Fact Sheet]

Iowa: 2nd lowest debt [Moody's Investors service]

Iowa: 8th Lowest Unemployment [TheAtlantic.com, 10/11/10; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]

Iowa: 1st in Children's healthcare [Commonwealth Fund, 5/08]

Iowa: 1st in Renewable Energy [Business Facilities, 8/10]

Here's what these endorsing groups and newspapers say:

"Culver has done a masterful job managing disasters" [Burlington Hawk Eye]

"Culver's vision looks to the future, not the past" [Iowa City Press-Citizen]

"Culver is more likely to move Iowa forward" [Des Moines Register]

We give Culver our "enthusiastic, whole-hearted endorsement" [Mason City Globe Gazette]

A good Culver radio ad has been on the air these past few days too. I don't have the script, but the announcer talks about why an independent report rated Iowa the third best-managed state in America: relatively low unemployment, good health care for children, and so on. It mentions that when Branstad was governor, Iowa ranked 48th in the survey done by the same group.

One new Culver campaign message has been driving me crazy. Several press releases have boasted about outworking Branstad on the campaign trail since the third gubernatorial debate. You know what would have been helpful? Holding more campaign events during the first eight months of the year, when Branstad was on the road full time and Culver was rarely seen. I frequently checked the Culver campaign website for upcoming events to add to my calendar posts on this blog. Sometimes weeks would go by with not a single campaign appearance scheduled for Culver or Judge. Culver kept saying he looked forward to campaigning ("governing is hard; campaigning is fun"), but even during the summer he wasn't holding many public events compared to Branstad. I'm glad things are going well on the stump now, but I wish Culver had started getting his message out around the state sooner. Once the legislative session ended in March, he should have kicked it up a notch.

I'm not optimistic about the results of today's election, but the governor's race should end up closer than most polls have indicated this year. Last week the Culver campaign released partial results from an internal poll showing Branstad ahead by just six points, 46-40. The Des Moines Register's latest Iowa poll showed Branstad with a commanding 12-point lead but said Culver had greatly improved his standing with independents. In the Register's September Iowa poll, Branstad led Culver by 19 points among independents, but the candidates were tied among that group in the in the new poll. Down-ticket Democrats should benefit if Culver is running closer to Branstad among no-party voters.

Share your own final thoughts on the governor's race in this thread.

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